Chargers are red-faced about what offense has done in red zone

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INGLEWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 19, 2021: Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) gets his pass off as Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons (11) and Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Osa Odighizuwa (97) rush in for a sack at SoFi Stadium on September 19, 2021 in Inglewood, California.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
The Chargers and quarterback Justin Herbert, shown under pressure from the Cowboys' Micah Parsons and Osa Odighizuwa, had difficulties in the red zone against Dallas. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

They lost a fumble that traveled 25 yards and through the end zone.

They had a pass intercepted after the receiver fell.

They gave back a touchdown because of an illegal shift.

The 2021 Chargers have not been good in the red zone and, in fact, have been rather weird.

“Hopefully, that fluky stuff balances out in the end,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said, “and we improve on the things that we can control.”

In splitting their first two games, the Chargers scored touchdowns on only three of 10 red-zone trips. Their 30% success rate ranked 31st — ahead of just New England — entering Week 3.

Along with the touchdowns, they produced four field goals. There were three times, however, when they didn’t score.

“It’s a tough thing to look at because we’re moving the ball well,” quarterback Justin Herbert said. “Whether that’s the penalties, the fumble or the interceptions. … That comes down to us. We just need to execute better.”

League-wide, the Chargers are fifth in yards but 27th in points, scoring only 37 while beating Washington and losing to Dallas. They have more turnovers (four) than touchdowns (three).

Lombardi said he hoped the red-zone issues would become “kind of a stubbed-your-toe-at-the-beginning” story. The Chargers’ success advancing the ball on the other 80 yards of the field would suggest this is possible.

“The way that we’ve been moving the ball is encouraging,” Lombardi said. “We just have to tighten up in the red zone. I think that will come. I hope this is just a little bit of an outlier.”

Coach Brandon Staley said rushing the ball more effectively inside the opposition’s 20-yard line would help. Not only can running provide better down-and-distance situations, but also it is safer than passing.

As the field shrinks, Lombardi said running can relieve some of the pressure that can be applied to the passing game because receivers have less room to work.

“That’s always a really good predictor of success in the red area when you can run the football better,” Staley explained, “especially when a lot of the coverages are designed to take your people away.”

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler gains yardage against the Dallas Cowboys.
Austin Ekeler says the running backs look forward to the challenge of rushing in the red zone, where the Chargers have faltered this season. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Speaking for his fellow running backs, Austin Ekeler said he’d welcome the increased red-zone opportunities.

“If he’s saying we need to be more efficient running the ball down there, in the running back room, we’re ready for that,” he said. “We’ll take that on headfirst.”

Despite their red-zone shortcomings, the Chargers succeeded on a two-point conversion against the Cowboys when Ekeler scored on a run.

Their chances of winning Sunday in Kansas City likely will be tied directly to their ability to finish drives with touchdowns. The Chiefs are one of the NFL’s more explosive offenses.

Quarterback Patrick Mahomes is 4-1 against the Chargers for his career. Kansas City has averaged 28.8 points in those five games.

“When you’re playing a team like the Chiefs, you don’t want to trade field goals for touchdowns,” Lombardi said. “So it’s gonna be really important that we get that ball in the end zone.”

Samuel drops ball

Rookie cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. had every intention of keeping the ball he intercepted Sunday against Dallas as a memento but in the chaotic aftermath that didn’t happen.

“I lost it on the sideline,” he said Thursday. “I was hoping I could get it back. But, yeah, I lost it.”

Asked specifically what happened, Samuel smiled.

“I don't know,” he admitted. “I mean, I kind of blacked out.”

Samuel’s reaction to his first interception in the preseason was similarly emotional. He ripped off his helmet while celebrating in the end zone against San Francisco and was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Etc.

Edge rusher Joey Bosa (ankle/foot) missed his second consecutive practice Thursday. His status for the game at Kansas City will be announced early Friday afternoon. ... Defensive back Chris Harris Jr. (shoulder) and defensive tackle Justin Jones (calf) also remain out.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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